Electric Road Trip

An EV convert in coal country

BISMARCK, N.D. — Today, E&E News published "This Tesla sells kids on coal," a story about an alignment between two things that rarely jibe: coal interests and electric vehicles.

A key person in the article is Jason Bohrer, the president and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council, who I met yesterday at its office in Bismarck. He told me how the group, which represents North Dakota's coal industry, is leading an effort to breathe life into the state's tiny electric vehicle market.

Coal lobbyists aren't usually gung-ho on electric vehicles. And I'm not sure how a coal lobbyist should look — a coat and tie, maybe? — but Bohrer is a low-key guy who didn't fit that image either.

He wore a blue knit sweater and had sideburns and graying hair, both worn long. His office had a cowhide rug, and on the coffee table were lightbulbs filled with lignite, the type of coal that is abundant in North Dakota.

The story focused on the council's Tesla Model X, which it bought as a marketing tool for the public. Most people associate EVs with clean energy like wind and solar. But the lignite council's goal is the opposite: It wants North Dakotans to know that electric cars here run thanks to the coal industry, which produces 66% of the state's electricity and is the third largest employer.

Bohrer told me he leased the car himself, since Tesla doesn't do corporate leases. Members of the coal group's staff take turns driving it for a week or so. But it was clear that Bohrer drove it a lot and that he had developed a certain affection.

He marveled at how he could open and drive the car without a key, just with his phone. He found the problems of range anxiety annoying, yet fascinating. "I look at my electric gauge more than my gas gauge," he said.

Then he took me out to look at the Tesla. Parked next to it was a bright red scooter. I didn't pay much attention to it until Bohrer mentioned that it was his.

Its brand is Flux, made in Wisconsin, he said proudly, and added that he had driven the electric scooter to work that day and arrived numb on the 40-degree morning.

He had bought the scooter for his wife, he said.

I didn't directly ask Bohrer if he had become a convert to electric vehicles. But I did notice that, for someone who has bought two EVs for someone else, he seemed to be using and enjoying them an awful lot. Perhaps a lobbyist for coal has also become a lobbyist for something else.

Electric Road Trip

E&E News reporters take a 6,000-mile road trip in an electric vehicle to explore how the switch from gas to electric transportation will change the economy, environment and daily life of America.
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